This was the 14th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, a bi-annual conference which has grown from about 200 delegates back in the 1990s to around 700 or more here in Krakow. The conference is highly international and widespread in its coverage, with topics ranging from mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities to mercury concentrations in aquatic ecosystems.
There was even a poster on mercury concentrations in spiders. The conference is unique in this ability to bring arguably distant scientific sectors together to discuss the global challenge of reducing mercury emissions in the atmosphere.
Since Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe have not given a phase-out target date for coal in their energy mix, there were a healthy number of papers which related to the ongoing challenge of reducing mercury from this sector. Mercury emissions from coal combustion can be reduced by over 95% with commercial technologies. However, the actual reduction efficiency varies with coal type and combustion system and so some plants require more “tweaking” than others to achieve this level of mercury control. Many of the numerous presentations from China focused on their ultra-low emission standards for coal plants and the potential for near-zero emissions through the use of advanced flue gas cleaning systems and regenerable sorbents.
Industrial uses of coal are often more challenging for mercury control since they are smaller and therefore control systems are, due to economies of scale, more expensive.
And, whereas coal for power can ultimately be phased out as alternatives exist, this is not the case for industrial processes such as ferrous and non-ferrous metal production, where coal and carbon is, for the moment, intrinsic to the process.
I was honoured to be invited to give a plenary on the Friday. If you were not lucky enough to hear it live in Krakow 8-13 September, you have a second chance, as I will be giving an abbreviated version of it as our next webinar on Wednesday – (updated: view it on our youtube channel on the link below.)
The next ICMGP will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2021.